Saturday, September 2, 2017

REVIEW: 'Narcos' - The DEA Misses a Few Leads but Quickly Finds Another in 'Follow the Money'

Netflix's Narcos - Episode 3.03 "Follow the Money"

The Rodriguez brothers go into hiding during negotiations. Pacho meets with the Lord of the Skies in Mexico. Peña's new DEA team visits Cali.

The six month time frame that this season has established is affecting different people in different ways. Gilberto is confident in the likelihood of the deal going through and him being able to relax comfortably into retirement. Miguel and Pacho are on the front lines of this operation needing to maintain the business relationships. Those individuals are worried that after the six months are up they will be exposed as well and have no protection whatsoever. Jorge sees it as the last gesture he has to give to this organization even though others don't fully appreciate all that he does for the cartel or his aspirations to leave for something better. Peña sees it as a limitation on what he can and can't do now that he's the one in charge of the DEA response on the ground. And finally, Stechner sees it as opportunity to raise the money he needs to run the covert missions he has planned for this region of the world. All of these conflicting agendas are complicating the narrative. Those complications will have a huge impact on the characters. Some will be hit with crushing disappointments before the season is over. Some will go completely unchanged. And others still will be rewarded with their efforts by getting exactly what they want most in the world. The journey getting to that point though is ripe with confrontations that are bound to change this deal completely.

The show is still largely in exposition mode for the majority of this episode. It details how the cartel was able to launder its money. It's an important part of this operation because it's illegal to have American dollars in this part of the world. Just simply having it in one's possession could lead to a lengthy jail sentence. As such, the show needs to explain how this operation cleans its money. Of course, it plays as this very informational sequence that is teaching the audience something new about this ordeal. And yet, money laundering isn't a new concept. It's been happening on many prestige dramas over the past few years. In fact, this isn't even the first show on Netflix this summer where money laundering is an important plot point. The other, of course, is Ozark starring Jason Bateman. However, this story is much more intriguing upfront because it has Sense8's Miguel Angel Silvestre and Halt and Catch Fire's Kerry Bishé as the faces of the operation. Silvestre's Franklin Jurado is the smooth charmer running things while Bishé is his American wife who is sick of being a cartel spouse and wants to return to the fun adventures around the world they used to have. It's a fascinating story because of the performers involved. But it's just being introduced in this episode.

More importantly, Peña is aware of what Franklin is up to and that he is the face of the money laundering operation. And yet, he escapes because no one else in the American government is treating this drug war as personally as he is at the moment. He returned to Colombia because there was still so much more work to be done. He needed to stop the Cali cartel because drugs were still a huge problem in the states. And now, he's finally pursuing a good lead only to lose it because of bureaucratic responsibilities. Peña is now the man in charge for the DEA. That means more meetings for him and having to put on a calm, reassuring face for the various government representatives who need to know that the war on drugs is going well. He's kept from doing his job because he has to put on a show for two senators. It's not a performance he endorses or puts together. He doesn't even know it's happening until he is forced onto the helicopter with the senators and Stechner. He is able to recognize the situation for what it truly is. He sees Stechner manipulating the people in charge who don't have a clue as to what's going on. He has to put up with it because speaking up won't change anything for the better. All he can do is his voice his frustrations with Stechner in a very profane way.

Of course, things are going better for the other DEA agents on the ground in Cali. This is everyone's first opportunity to see Feistl and Van Ness in action. No one has high expectations for them. The cartel already knows that they are in Cali. They are already being followed. They believe them to be tourists sent to replace the two former agents in this job. They are the newcomers who are just getting their bearings in this new city. They don't have the authority to do anything on their first day in town. Of course, they quickly take everyone by surprise. They actually have a signed warrant ready to strike when they find a promising lead. All they have to do is put the proper address on the piece of paper and they can spring into action. That's a very thrilling and intense sequence. It's a race against the clock for Jorge to get Pallomari out of there before the DEA discovers the accounting work he is doing. Pallomari frustratingly refuses to listen. He's a very stubborn man who sees no reason to panic despite Jorge literally yelling in his ear. Even when he gets to the office before the DEA, Pallomari doesn't take the threat seriously. He is only a free man because Jorge sprung into action and got rid of all of the evidence before the DEA could see it. However, the show is also asking the audience to believe that no one would think to check behind the door of the office for a man holding millions of dollars in American currency. That's a plot point the audience has to accept while also still seeing Feistl and Van Ness as smart and capable officers. That's a bit of a stretch.

And yet, the final action of the episode more than makes up for that shortcoming with Feistl and Van Ness. They stumble upon Gilberto by accident. But it's still a huge discovery for them. They spend most of this episode off on their own. It's up to them to decide what actions to take in Cali. Peña isn't getting any cell reception. He has no idea what's going on in Cali and the huge impact it will have on his ability to do his job. Feistl and Van Ness are now the agents tracking the cartel leaders on the ground in a crowded Colombian city. They have tricks up their sleeves to surprise their enemies. But they can't trust anyone on the police force. That's why it's a crushing defeat that they aren't able to keep all the evidence they have just taken from Pallomari's office. And yet, a simple word that Pallomari says inspires Van Ness to take this investigation seriously. He didn't want this job. Feistl is the ambitious one who wants to make a difference in the world. But it's Van Ness with the smart idea that Pallomari could possible be extradited to Chile should he ever be arrested. That allows them to stay in Cali for awhile longer. Following Pallomari and Cordova around then leads them to the house where Gilberto is staying. That's a shocking moment that really raises the anticipation for the next episode. Gilberto has done so much planning. He's tired of telling everyone what to do. He wants to retire while he's still at the top. He believes he's accomplished what no one else in history has done. He's done it all as a ghost as well. And now, he's been seen by a couple of fresh DEA agents. And in this moment, they are able to contact Peña. He's now more than willing to reach out to Colonel Martinez to work with the Search Bloc again to arrest the leader of the biggest cartel in the world. He's not simply going to wait around for the government to finish their negotiations. That's an exciting tease for the future.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Follow the Money" was written by David Matthews and directed by Gabriel Ripstein.
  • In terms of interesting casting in this episode, Wayne Knight shows up as a boastful American lawyer figuring out the final details of surrender for Gilberto and promising immunity to Jorge while Glenn Morshower and Louis Herthum play the two senators who want as many details as possible about the war on drugs but are also easily fooled by Stechner.
  • In more casting distinctions, Kerry Bishé is a series regular this season while Miguel Angel Silvestre is a guest star. That will probably be important. It means Peña will likely catch a break in tailing Christina. But does it mean that Franklin will meet a grim fate early on? This episode proves just how important he is to the overall operation.
  • It's not surprising at all that the police contact Feistl and Van Ness are working with in Cali turns out to be one of the corrupt cops in the city. The show has set up that expectation. There's barely anyone in the local force whom the Americans can actually trust. As such, the characters and the audience always need to be incredibly wary.
  • It's fascinating to hear Stechner's approach to the war on drugs. He sees it as a war that America has already lost. They lost it a decade ago. There is no reason to still be caring about it. He's focused on what happens next in this country. He's wondering what becomes of the government if the Unites States pulls out now. He wants to maintain control because he has a number of operations running in secrecy.
  • Pacho has landed in Mexico and is currently working on a new deal with local contact, Amado. The show once again explains how Escobar was afraid of the Mexican cartels because he saw them as competition. Cali sees them as allies to help smuggle drugs into the United States. Continuing that partnership is what Pacho is responsible for. Of course, he's also starting to think about what his life will be following the surrender.
  • Maria is gifted with an incredible apartment in order to buy her silence regarding the death of her husband, Claudio. She understands what all of this means. And yet, she is willing to accept it in order to escape from her husband's controlling family while also being reunited with her son. It's a story that feels very tangential at the moment.
  • Jorge is still making plans for his legitimate business venture. He's taking meetings to explain why he needs to delay things for six months. And yet, the meeting quickly turns sour after David shows up and needs to put Jorge in his place. It's a move that shows how vile David is while increasing sympathy for Jorge. So far, Jorge has really been a strong new addition for this season.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.